UFO’s long career has in recent times been taking them down the road less travelled. It’s nearly three years now since a Central London date, but after last year’s show in St Albans, capital based fans like me now made the trip to Dorking, the market town in the Surrey Hills stockbroker belt, which was the nearest venue on a tour capitalising on their very well received Ramblin Man appearance in the summer.
It was my first trip to Dorking Halls- at least as an adult as I recall my Dad taking me to a model railway show in the seventies- and it is more used to staging pantomimes or tribute acts, but by showtime a healthy crowd, overwhelmingly male and of mature years was present.
There was the additional attraction of Wayward Sons, the new project formed by Toby Jepson as the latest stage in his chequered career, and named after a lyric from Little Angels’ ‘Kicking Up Dust’. However after hearing good things I came away rather disappointed. A thick wall of sound had a raw, almost punky feel to them and Phil Martini’s drums rather overpowered the sound.
Additionally I found that the songs, including opener ‘Alive’ and the title track of their new album ‘Ghosts of Yet to Come’, lacked hooks and the prodigious songwriting skills the young Toby showed in Little Angels seemed to have deserted him. That said, they went down well and Toby used all his experience to start some audience participation during current single ‘Crush’. Lead guitarist Sam Wood was a capable player, and even looked like the young Michael Schenker when he strapped on a flying V.
Highlights were few other than some fine organ playing on ‘Something Wrong Here’ from Dave Kemp whose keyboards were otherwise Inaudible, and it made for a long 45 minutes. Maybe it needed me to spend some time with the album and familiarise myself with the songs before trying them again, hopefully at a venue with better sound.
UFO opened with ‘We Belong To The Night’ which came as a surprise as in a recent interview drummer Andy Parker had said the Chapman-era songs had not been going down well. In truth it wasn’t the best song for Phil Mogg, as the words tumbled out breathlessly and he appeared to forget some of them. Luckily the 69 year old settled into his vocal range which still has remarkable depth and character during ‘Run Boy Run’ and the first trip into the seventies Schenker years for ’Ain’t No Baby’.
With his shaved head, braces and boots, the one constant in UFO’s long history came over as a twinkly, ageing bovver boy, and there was his usual surreal between song comments and crowd banter.
One classic swiftly followed another with a fast and furious ‘Lights Out’ followed by ‘Only You Can Rock Me’, the mid-song section where Paul Raymond and Vinnie Moore swapped keyboard and guitar solos before the main riff kicked back in epitomising what made the band at their peak so special.
Interestingly though ‘Cherry’, with the precise bass lines of Rob De Luca- the ‘new boy’ now several years in the band- received a phenomenal reception, suggesting the track is a cult fan favourite.
There was the odd song of more recent vintage in ‘Burn Your House Down’ but interestingly their new cover album in ‘The Salentino Cuts’ was completely ignored in the set. Instead we were treated to all the classics, none more so than ‘Love To Love’, a multi-tempo epic that deserves to rank alongside the likes of ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Child In Time’ and ‘Freebird’, yet scarcely known to the wider world. It was delivered fairly faithfully to the original other than some improvised soloing at the end from Vinnie Moore.
Always a technically skilled player, the curly haired American seems in recent years to have reined in some of his over-playing excesses for the better, as well as becoming more extroverted and he regularly came to the edge of the stage to engage with the crowd at the front. His playing also seemed so effortless, epitomised by the moment he took ‘Too Hot To Handle’ to new heights with an extended solo, much of it delivered playing behind his head.
‘Messiah of Love’ saw some rather looser jamming and it was clear Andy Parker was relishing holding together a band that, in a good way, are less mercurial these days than when Pete Way and Michael Schenker were raising chaos.
We were then into the same closing territory as every UFO show since time immemorial as ‘Rock Bottom’ saw Vinnie going off on a lengthy guitar solo, well supported by Paul and Rob, only for his guitar to cut out just as he moved back to the main riff, a fact he made light of by pretending to air guitar!
The intro to first encore ‘Doctor Doctor’ never fails to create a sense of anticipation and a knot of people were pogoing at the front, creating a great atmosphere which made it easy to overlook a somewhat ragged delivery. This was maintained for a crisp version of ‘Shoot Shoot’, leaving me just enough time to do exactly that and catch the last train back into London.
Sure, it was once again a predictable setlist and a shortish 90 minute show, but this gig confirmed that with a stable and (relatively) sober line up, UFO are enjoying an Indian summer of a late career renaissance. Any doubters should go and see these legends while we still can.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
Album review (The Salentino Cuts)
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